My MKE Staycation is an ongoing series on Milwaukeemag.com. We ask writers and contributors to describe their ideal day off in Milwaukee. Catch up on the entire series here.
Who says you need to waste hours cooped up in a car or stuffed into some miserable airplane in order to get away from it all? Or that you’ve got to visit Paris to get some culture? Or New Orleans for some fine dining and night life? What does any other stinkin’ place on this earth have that Milwaukee doesn’t? That’s right… nothin’! So move aside, London and park your trolleys, San Francisco, I’m taking my next vacation day right here in the Cream City. And here’s what that day will look like…
It’s a late reveille on this chilly Milwaukee morning, my hibernation broken only by the grind and slam of the garbage truck emptying the back-alley dumpsters. It’s a way of life for many Eastsiders, as is the wildly uneven heating of apartment radiators that date back to prohibition.
It’s too damn cold in the kitchen to even think about making breakfast, so my wife, Erika, and I start our day at Downer Avenue’s Original Pancake House with a couple of Uncle Buck-worthy plates of flapjacks.
Just a ways up the block from the Pancake House is Boswell Books, a required stop for any bibliophile (especially one fresh off a hearty breakfast who needs a big plush chair).
Before plopping down, I check out the local history section for the latest looks back at the Cream City’s past while Erika shakes down the bargain cart for fiction. Soon enough, we’re both charged up and head outside to wait for the Gold Line bus.
We get off at the Water Street stop and, with the mid-day sun having pushed the temperature to the balmy mid-40s, we opt for a stroll along the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is an easy thing for a Milwaukeean to take for granted, but a nice, long waterside jaunt is a great reminder of just what a treasure it really is.
There’s an odd peacefulness to the area when summer has passed, with the dining areas bare and the tour boats laid up for the season. We snake around until we find an alleyway leading into the Third Ward.
It’s time for a taste. The Third Ward has plenty of spots to grab a bite and a drink, but that’s not really what we’re in the mood for.
We hop a Green Line bus and jump off at the Virginia Street stop. We hit up Zad’s on South Second for a couple-three High Lifes and five dollars worth of pull tabs. We get skunked on the pull tabs and, getting a little skunked on the beer as well, we call up a Lyft and decided to do a little shopping.
Antiques on Pierce is a great place for someone looking to get lost. With two floors, 200 dealers, and 90,000 square feet, this place does not screw around. I lust over some classic (and very expensive) Pabst and Schlitz promotional items from the 1950s while Erika gets a few cheap laughs from a stack of Eisenhower-era romance novels. As the sun fades, we’ve both became hungry and weary in the knees. I buy a set of 1992 Milwaukee Police Brewers cards and we Lyft to Bay View.
With minimal frills, cold beer and a some weird kind of Mr. T public service movie playing on the TV, The Vanguard would be a hell of stop even without their great selection of specialty sausages and sides.
But we’ve come with meat and cheese on the brain, nursing a pair of generous cocktails while we wait on our food. By the time T is growl-singing about taking care of your mother, we’re deep into a pair of Nashville chicken links and a pile of cheese curds.
She’s a queen/ Second to none/ Take care of Mother/ You only get one
With dinner out of the way, it’s time for a show. Depending on what’s happening, we can chose either a movie at the Avalon or a stage show at the Alchemist. The Avalon shows both today’s hits and classic films. The Alchemist showcases some of the area’s best local theatre in way that is uniquely Milwaukee. The house bartender, for example, also happens to be the star of one their most popular shows (during which he serves drinks to the audience).
Both venues are cozy in their own ways, offering a warm-up for both the body and mind. On this particular evening, we pick a show at the Avalon and grow sleepy under the twinkling “stars” of the house ceiling.
We Lyft again, this time back home, getting one last grand look at the city as we pass over the Hoan Bridge. Recombobulating without ever having to leave the city.